KILWA DISTRICT

The Maji Maji War, was a violent African resistance to colonial rule in the German colony of Tanganyika lasting from 1905 to 1907. Surprisingly it was an uprising by several different African tribes united in response to a German policy designed to force African peoples to grow cotton for export.

The seeds of rebellion were fostered in the south and the retribution that followed left the area heavily depopulated. The suppression of the Maji Maji people changed the history of southern Tanzania. It is estimated that tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of people died or were displaced from their homes

The whole of southern Tanzania and many of the battlegrounds from the uprising are now within the 55,000 km2 Selous Game Reserve. The Selous Game Reserve is the second biggest conservation area and the largest game reserve in Africa. To give scale to this, the Selous is larger than Switzerland and half the size of the US state of Ohio.
Until recently the reserve was only accessible by plane or train, however with improved roads the area is opening up to everyone. The concentrations of wildlife in the Selous are understandably huge.

The Selous, named after the British hunter and conservationist, boasts Tanzania’s largest population of elephant with about 10,000 as well as some of the largest numbers of buffalo, hippo, Nile crocodile and wild dog in Africa. Other species commonly seen are lion, bushbuck, impala, giraffe, eland, baboon, zebra and greater kudu. The Selous also contains one of the few viable populations of Black Rhino in the world; with between 150 and 200 individuals, the park also has over 350 bird species and 2,000 plant species. The Selous was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983 due to its unique ecological importance.

The other UNESCO world heritage site in Southern Tanzania is found at Kilwa Kiswani. Kilwa Kiswani is a small island situated just off the coast of the town of Kilwa Masoko in South-Eastern Tanzania. Kilwa became important as a prosperous trading and commercial centre that connected the Indian Ocean littoral to Africa’s interior. During its reign as East Africa’s premier trading station, Kilwa traded in items as diverse as Arabian crockery, Persian earthenware and Chinese porcelain. Kilwa has been habited since the beginning of the 9th century and reached its commercial peak in the 13th and 14th century.
Between 1331-1332, the great Moroccan traveller, Ibn Battuta, made a stop here and described Kilwa as one of the most beautiful cities of the known world.

Kilwa Kiswani became an important town due to its control of the gold trade from Sofala in Mozambique. The city grew and became more important until the Portuguese explorer; Vasco de Gama nearly destroyed Kilwa in 1502, hoping to gain commercial and maritime dominance in the Indian Ocean for the Portuguese. Kilwa however then grew rapidly, like Zanzibar did at the time due to the slave trade and in the late 18th century came under the control of the Sultan of Oman.

The ruins found on the island now include the vestiges of the great mosque, constructed in the 12th century of coral clay, the remains of the palace built by Sultan Al Hasan in 1310 and numerous smaller mosques from the 12th and 14th century. From the Portuguese era the ruins of a fortress and an entire urban complex with houses and public areas remain. The archaeological artifacts found at the site bare testimony to the commercial and consequently cultural exchanges of which Kilwa was the theatre.

Kilwa Kisiwani and the neighbouring ruins of Songo Mnara are two archaeological sites of prime importance to the understanding of the Swahili culture and the Islamization of the east coast of Africa. It was for these reasons that the ruins were awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1981. They have since been ignored until a joint French / Japanese company are began restoration and exploration work on the ruins in 2003.

Kilwa Kisiwani is now just a small village but the town of Kilwa Masoko is developing in to an important gateway for tourism in Southern Tanzania. Kilwa Masoko offers tourist deserted palm fringed beaches with safe swimming as well as being within easy access of the Selous and Ruins of Kisiwani.

The Kilwa coastline is surrounded by mangrove forests, from an ecological perspective; mangroves are a unique and significant ecosystem and are among the most productive natural systems found throughout the world. Mangroves are used by a vast array of organisms as breeding, nursery and feeding areas.